Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has set his sights on the UEFA Nations League after turning down the opportunity to become the next manager of Scotland.
O’Neill last week held talks with the Scottish Football Association regarding its vacancy but has elected to remain with Northern Ireland.
The 48-year-old was appointed by the IFA in December 2011 and is understood to have been offered improved terms on a deal that will run until 2024.
And O’Neill speaking after attending the UEFA Nations League draw in Switzerland where Northern Ireland were pitted against Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina in Group Three of League B hopes his key senior players can be convinced to shelve international retirement plans and continue to represent their country for a few more years.
Gareth McAuley, who had previously said he would consider his international future if O’Neill left, and Chris Brunt are amongst those O’Neill wants to stay on.
“I’ve spoken to most of the lads in question and discussions have been very, very positive,” he added.
“There are two sides to it. It’s March 2019 before the qualification for the Euros starts in earnest.
“The Nations League is almost like a pre-tournament. I’d like to go in with the strongest team possible.
“Our players have had a great four years.
“Some played a lot of international football and didn’t have too many positives, too many great memories, and going forward they want it to last as long as possible.
And O’Neill was pleased with the draw his side have been given after getting Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“Austria is a country that we prepared in for the Euros so it will be nice to go and play there in a competitive game.
“Bosnia again are a strong team but I think it gives us an opportunity for promotion in the Nations League and also the opportunity to win a place at Euro 2020.”
And captain Steven Davis feels they can take a positive mindset into the inaugural competition.
“We are playing teams in and around us in terms of world rankings so I expect the games to be close and competitive.
“They will be two good teams to play against,” he said on www.irishfa.com.
Before the new tournament starts in the 2018-2019 campaign, Northern Ireland are set to play friendlies against South Korea, Panama and Costa Rica.
“It will be great to get back together following the disappointment in Switzerland,” Davis said.
“It will be good to start preparing for the Nations League and to get the World Cup play-off defeat fully out of our system,” he said.
“I think the matches in Central America will be two good games.
“Our trip to South America before the Euro 2016 campaign really galvanised us as a squad.
“And I’m hoping the trip to Central America will have a similar effect.
“All the lads will be looking forward to it and it will be great to have all the squad back together again,” the midfielder added.